Lost. . .and Found!By Kate Hofmann; art by Dave Clegg
Many kinds of plants and animals have become extinct. But some we thought were gone forever have been rediscovered—alive and well!
BURMESE ROOFED TURTLE
The Burmese roofed turtle, a river turtle from the Asian country of Myanmar (MEE-an-mar), looks as if it’s wearing a friendly grin. But just 20 years ago, the news about this turtle wasn’t happy at all. People had collected too many of the turtles and their eggs for food, and scientists thought the species had become extinct. Then people found a few living turtles. But they were still very rare—and at risk of disappearing altogether. So scientists decided to help the turtles. They set up special places where the turtles could mate and lay eggs in safety. The hatchlings also would be protected as they grew to be adults. The plan worked! Today there are more than 1,000 Burmese roofed turtles in the wild and in captivity. Now, that’s something to smile about!
STARRY NIGHT TOAD
On a high mountain in Colombia, South America, lives a species called the starry night toad. Until recently, the last time scientists saw one of these toads was almost 30 years ago. They feared it had become extinct.
But the native people who live on the same mountain—the Arhuaco (ar-oo-AHkoh)—knew better. They often saw and heard the toads, but they never told anyone else. They didn’t want outsiders to come to their homeland.
As years passed, though, the Arhuaco got to know and trust some of the scientists. So they invited them to see the toads. It was a magical sight. More than 30 of the black-and-white toads in one place made a pattern like a starry night sky! Now conservation groups and the Arhuaco people are working together to study and protect the toads and their habitat.
WALLACE’S GIANT BEE
You might think that the biggest bees in the world would be hard to lose track of. But that’s just what happened to Wallace’s giant bees in Indonesia. For nearly 40 years, no one saw any.
A female of this bee species is four times larger than a honey bee, with enormous jaws and a wingspan as wide as a tennis ball. (The males are smaller.) The female uses her jaws to scrape up tree sap for lining her nest, which she makes inside a termite nest that’s up in a tree.
In 2019, a team of scientists searched many termite nests with no luck. But then, just when they thought they might have to give up, they found a nest with a bee-sized hole. Sure enough, inside was a giant bee. Wallace’s giant bees weren’t extinct after all.
WOOD’S MOUNTAIN HIBISCUS
On the Hawaiian island of Kauai, there are cliffs so steep that people just can’t climb them safely. In 2019, a team of scientists from Hawaii flew a drone (a small remote-controlled flying machine) along the cliffs to take photos of plants growing there. One photo showed something exciting: a relative of the hibiscus plant called Wood’s hau kuahiwi, or mountain hibiscus.
Only four plants of this species had ever been found before. They were first discovered in 1991, but three were later crushed by rocks falling from the cliffs above. The last was found dead in 2011. Now the drone’s photos have shown at least three more! The team hopes drones can be a tool for discovering—and harvesting seeds from—more of Hawaii’s very rare plants. And that may help scientists do more to protect them.
The country of Vietnam is home to a rabbit-sized animal with hooves like a deer’s. It tiptoes quietly around the forest eating plants and fruit. Called the silver-backed chevrotain (SHEV-ruh-tayn), it has silvery fur on its rump that makes it different from the other, more common chevrotain that lives there. And it hadn’t been seen for more than 30 years.
But recently, scientists got tips from local people who thought they’d seen the rare animals. Those tips helped them decide where to place cameras around the forest. And, sure enough, those automatic cameras captured photos of many silver-backed chevrotains! The photos even show the chevrotains’ tusk-like fangs. What are those fangs used for? Scientists aren’t sure. Like almost everything about these little-known animals, it’s a bit of a mystery!
GREAT FOX SPIDER
The great fox spider is a two-inch-long, gray-brown, furry spider that’s part of the wolf spider family. Instead of building webs, it hunts for its prey by night and spends the day under cover. That explains why it’s not easy to know whether this spider is still around. In Great Britain, nobody had seen one since 1993, and people thought it was extinct there.
But one man wasn’t ready to give up on the great fox spider. He spent two years searching a wild part of a military base in Surrey, Great Britain. His patience paid off last year when he finally spotted several of the spiders in his flashlight beam.
Of all these long-lost species, a small bird is the longest-lost of all. Back in the 1840s, some explorers from Europe went to Borneo and caught a bird in the rainforest. They brought it back, dead and stuffed. It was later named the black-browed babbler. Scientists never saw the species again, so some of them believed it was extinct.
About 170 years later, in 2020, two men from Borneo saw a bird they didn’t recognize. They took photos of it and reported their find to an online birdwatching group. They hoped someone could help them identify the bird. Sure enough, some other birdwatchers made the amazing connection back to the black-browed babbler. It wasn’t extinct at all!
There are about 20 species of sengis (SENgheez) in Africa. They’re also called elephant shrews, but these mammals are not shrews at all. In fact, they are more closely related to elephants! The little animals run very fast for their size and use their trunk-like noses to hunt ants and other insects.
One species, the Somali sengi, hadn’t been seen by scientists in more than 50 years. Then last year a research team found them living in the country of Djibouti. In fact, they caught a Somali sengi in the very first live trap they set!
This story comes with even more good news. The team found groups of the sengis in several parts of the country, all in places that aren’t good for farming or building. That means the land will likely stay wild. Without any threats from people, the little sengis should keep right on racing around!